Why would radio frequency identification be seen as preferable to other manual processes and technologies?
The advantages of using RFID over manual processes or other technologies really depend on the particular application for which you are utilizing it. For instance, the main benefit of employing RFID as a payment system is that you can handle a greater number of transactions in less time, thereby reducing bottlenecks at toll booths, the point of sale and gas pumps.
On the other hand, the main advantage of using RFID to track gas cylinders is not necessarily the speed of identifying those cylinders, but rather the fact that the transponder can be encased in plastic able to withstand harsh conditions. Bar codes and other labels would be unreadable if covered with snow or mud, for example, and would likely come off in a harsh chemical bath.
Here are some general advantages of RFID over manual processes and other technologies.
1. RFID is the only truly automatic-identification technology.
Bar codes are great, but they usually require a person to scan them. RFID systems, on the other hand, can collect information without the need for human intervention. That means using RFID is usually cheaper than scanning bar codes, or performing other manual processes.
2. RFID usually requires no line of sight.
If you were to receive a box containing 60 pairs of jeans, you would either need to open the box and count the garments manually, or scan each bar code to confirm that there were actually 60 items, and that they were the correct products. With RFID, you could read the contents in only a few seconds.
3. RFID is an enabling technology.
RFID allows users to build a wide variety of applications that go well beyond data collection. For instance, museums have enhanced the visitor experience by having a tag read whenever a visitor approaches an item, triggering visual or audio information. And retailers have deployed mirrors with built-in RFID readers and a touch screen. When a customer tries on an item in front of the mirror, the tag is read and information is displayed. The customer can then touch the screen to view other colors and styles, as well as accessories, thereby enabling retailers to cross-sell without requiring a salesperson.
4. RFID is accurate.
Bar codes require people to scan them, and people often forget to do so, or scan the wrong bar code. As a result, IT systems frequently have bad information in them. When RFID solutions are properly deployed, they are often highly accurate, which means the data stored in an inventory-management, warehouse-management or other system is accurate and can be trusted. This leads to better business decisions.
These are the big-picture, generic benefits of radio frequency identification. For every particular application, RFID has specific advantages over other technologies and manual processes. It should be noted, however, that RFID does have disadvantages for some applications. For instance, RFID is a relatively short-range technology, and would thus not work for tracking a ship at sea, for instance, or a truck on an open highway. GPS would be the right technology choice for such applications.
If you have a specific application you are looking into, I would be happy to offer my thoughts regarding RFID's strengths and weaknesses for that specific scenario.
—Mark Roberti, Founder and Editor, RFID Journal
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